The Nationals have
17 16 games remaining in which to catch the Cincinnati Reds, reach the playoffs and salvage their season. With Thursday’s 7-2 win over the Mets in New York, their season-high sixth straight win, the Nationals moved to 5 1/2 games behind the Reds for the second wild-card spot. Now, they just hope to make up the rest before they run out of time. They have one significant factor working in their favor over the next week-plus: being at home.
The Nationals open a 10-game homestand on Friday, the final one of the season, beginning with a three-game series with the Philadelphia Phillies. They will then host the Atlanta Braves for three games and the Miami Marlins for four. The Nationals are in the midst of their best stretch of baseball this season and, surprisingly, most of the wins have been on the road. They have won eight of the past nine games, all away from home, and 23 of their past 32 games overall.
At Nationals Park, the Nationals are 40-31, a .563 winning percentage — a tad better mark than the league average of .541. (On the road, they are 36-38, a .486 winning percentage — slightly better than the league average mark of .458.) If the Nationals hope to make the final last-gasp push for the playoffs, hosting 10 of their final 16 games may help their cause.
The Phillies are bad on the road: a 27-44 record. The Marlins have the second-worst mark in baseball on the road at 23-47. And the Braves haven’t distinguished themselves as a dominant road team, with a 36-38 record away from Turner Field. (At home, the Braves are a major league-best 51-20.)
The Nationals’ success at home goes deeper than just their record. All but one of their starting pitchers — Dan Haren — has a better ERA at home than on the road. Haren has a 6.00 ERA at home vs. a 4.31 ERA on the road this season. Aside from him, the rest of the starting staff does better at Nationals Park. Jordan Zimmermann’s home ERA of 2.84 this season is more than a run lower than his 3.99 road ERA. Gio Gonzalez has a 2.64 ERA at home this season compared to 3.94 away from the Nationals Park.
The starkest difference is Stephen Strasburg, who has a minuscule 1.55 ERA at home while posting a 4.68 ERA on the road this season. (Over his career, the difference is smaller but still there: 2.52 at home is 2.52 and 3.46 on the road.) As a whole, the pitching staff performs better in the confines of Nationals Park, posting a 3.46 ERA compared to 3.88 elsewhere.
A difference is also evident in the hitters. The Nationals’ home OPS is .736 compared to .698 on the road. Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond and Denard Span have hit better at home — with respective OPSs of .916, .880 and .765 — than on the road — .829, .730 and .671. Jayson Werth has a .900-plus OPS this season regardless of where he hits, while Ryan Zimmerman has enjoyed the road better, hitting 19 of his 23 home runs away from Nationals Park.
Over the next nine games, the Reds are on the road. While the Nationals are playing the Phillies this weekend, Cincinnati will be in Milwaukee, followed by three games in Houston and three in Pittsburgh. The Reds, like the Braves and Nationals, are only slightly better than average on the road at 35-37. While the majority of the Reds’ opponents over the next week and a half are among the worst in baseball, the fact the games are on the road doesn’t make them foregone conclusions. The Reds are, for what its worth, 50-26 against teams with losing records, one of the best marks in the baseball. The Nationals aren’t far behind with a 56-33 mark against losing teams.
At this point of the season, the Nationals need any sliver of an opening to keep their postseason hopes alive. And maybe being in the comfortable confines of Nationals Park over the next week and a half will help.
FROM THE POST
With a 7-2 win, the Nationals have won eight of nine and season-best six in a row, writes Adam Kilgore.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Trenton 11, Harrisburg 4 Trenton completes the three-game sweep for the Eastern League championship. Nate Karns allowed five runs on four hits and walked three over 2 2/3 innings. Three more relievers allowed six runs. Harrisburg produced 14 hits but only four runs. Billy Burns, Brian Goodwin, Sean Nicol and Jason Martinson each smacked two hits. Rick Hague went 3 for 4 with an RBI.
Savannah 6, Hagerstown 0: The Suns dropped a second game in the South Atlantic League finals and trail in the series 2-1. Kylin Turnbull allowed six runs on nine hits over five innings. Bryan Harper tossed two scoreless innings of relief. Shawn Pleffner went 1 for 4, as did Wander Ramos.